Disasters and Proper Use of ‘Recovery Tourism’: New Orleans’s Image Post-Hurricane Katrina

A recent article on ‘Recovery Tourism’ by Christine Birkner speaks of the attempts by the Joplin, Missouri, Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), which released maps highlighting the sites that were hit by the deadly May 2011 tornado. According to the article, the maps were intended to create a historical record of the tornado to appease the interests of locals and tourists. The article also quotes Jennifer Day from the New Orleans CVB saying: “You’re not going to stop people from being curious. Here in New Orleans, people still ask about areas of the city that were damaged and [want] to see them […] From the tourism standpoint, or the brand of the city standpoint, you can participate in telling your story or you can stand back and have no control over the impressions that your visitors take away.”

To use ‘Recovery Tourism’ to successfully improve the image of a city, on top of attracting tourists and being sensitive to locals, the business sector impact also needs to be considered. There needs to be a strong dissociation between the tragedy and the city, emphasizing the recovery, most specifically in the areas of safety, security, and infrastructure in order to bring the city away from the image of disaster, chaos, and danger.

For New Orleans specifically, all the media coverage helped bring in much-needed charity, but as a once popular convention location, years later it is still trying to get back on its feet*. Conventions are a key factor in the local economy, boosting business through those staying in hotels, visiting bars, eating at restaurants, and experiencing the city, and then bringing their stories to other parts of the country (or in some cases, the world). The image leftover from Hurricane Katrina also scares away businesses that may want to open branches/subsidiaries in the area, and that are concerned about the ability to attract employees and their families. Overall, the city has its dangerous parts, but the areas traditionally visited by tourists and businessmen are fairly safe.

In fact, the city has actually become safer than it was before the hurricane. In 2004, the city ranked #8 in CQ Press’s “City Crime Rate Rankings”** on most dangerous cities, just below Hartford, CT. In 2010, it was ranked 11th. However, I would argue from a perceptions standpoint, it is seen as far more dangerous after Hurricane Katrina because it is associated with all the negative images of pillaging, mugging, and murder.

Thus, when actively pushing to change the impact of a city post-disaster, it is not just about the people-to-people soft aspects, (i.e. the recovery stories), but also about the emphasis on the hard aspects, including improvements in infrastructure and safety. Although ‘Recovery Tourism’ can help improve messaging, it can have a negative impact if it is the only or loudest voice in the parlor, or if it does not include emphasis on the traits critical for investment that have also improved.

*Unfortunately economic data could not be found to support this statement, thus it is based on various discussions in my more than twenty visits to the city since Hurricane Katrina.

** Please note this ranks cities relative to each other, so it is New Orleans’ crime rate versus other cities’ crime rates:

Murder

Rape

Robbery

Aggravated Assault

Burglary

Motor Vehicle Theft

2010

US

4.8

27.5

119.1

252.3

699.6

238.8

New Orleans, LA

49.1

40.4

267.5

370.7

1,037.0

676.4

2004

US

5.5

32.2

136.7

291.1

729.9

421.3

New Orleans, LA

56.0

40.1

389.8

462.4

1,112.0

1,387.1

All are rates per 100,000 population.


If you look at New Orleans in 2004 rankings versus New Orleans in 2010, there has been a decrease in murder, robbery, assault, burglary, and motor vehicle theft, but a slight increase in rape. The dramatic change in ranking versus other cities is a result of New Orleans having the second highest murder rate in 2004 with 56 murders per 100,000 population. Relative to other cities, New Orleans had the highest murder rate in 2010 with 49.1 per 100,000 population, but this is still a drop relative to the 2004 level. The main reason for the drop in overall rank relative to other cities is primarily due to a decrease in motor vehicle theft.

Also, Morgan Quitno uses six variables to rank cities (murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, and motor vehicle theft); other organizations, such as Forbes, use a different methodology and variables (e.g., Forbes uses manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault – in 2010, New Orleans did not make the Top 10).

Sources:

Missouri Marketers Practice ‘Recovery Tourism’ in Tornado
Aftermath

Scott Morgans, Editor at Morgan Quitno (now owned by CQ Press)

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